Samba and Subtitles


One of the more fun projects I’ve worked on lately was a documentary, in Spanish, about samba in Colombia.

Samba is the music and dance made famous by Carnaval in Brazil, but it’s so much fun that there are samba groups all over the world.

I play in a samba group in Adelaide, and one of my friends from the band made a documentary about it before he left Colombia to start life in Adelaide.


The film is about to be screened in Bogotá, Rio and Adelaide. Being from Colombia, it’s in Spanish, so a version with English subtitles was needed to gain an audience in Australia. This is where I could help. My friend transcribed the dialogue, which is quite colloquial, and then translated it into English. The translation need to be edited and shortened to be ready to add to the film as subtitles. This was the first time I’d been involved in this sort of project, and I really enjoyed it.

Apart from playing in a samba group, one of my other interests is learning Spanish, which I’ve been doing for many years. Until recently, its only practical application had been for travelling, for reading books that haven’t yet been translated into English (it’s so much more satisfying to be able to read a book in its original language), and for making me think about grammar and words even more than I would otherwise.  It’s certainly the first time I could say I’ve earnt money from it! As part of preparing the text for the subtitles, at times I needed to refer to the original Spanish transcription. It was a fun team effort!

A Samba Journey

If you’d like to come along to the Adelaide screening of A Samba Journey/Samba en las Alturas, it’ll be at the Mercury Cinema, Wednesday April 6 at 7pm. Tickets are $10 at the door, or $10 + a small booking fee through Eventbrite. There will be a live performance by SaSamba as well, so bring your dancing shoes!

SaSamba performs at corporate and community events regularly, as well as at private functions.

If you need help with documents translated from Spanish to English, let me know.

The Industry Leaders Fund

Leaders, we need you!

If there’s one thing South Australia needs at the moment, it’s more employment. Too often we hear about jobs being lost from so many industries, and with the looming losses associated with the closure of Holden, we need more and better leaders to look for opportunities for growth and diversification.

I recently did some work for a great South Australian organisation called the Industry Leaders Fund, which is well placed to help local organisations in these challenging and changing times.

It offers grants of up to $50000 for eligible people to participate in programs to advance their skills as leaders. By improving and expanding the organisations in which these leaders work, the goal is to stimulate growth in the South Australian economy. We’ll all benefit from that!

Past grant recipients are from diverse industries, and have attended many different training programs in Australia and overseas. They work in industries such as wine, engineering, food processing and production, industrial automation, biotechnology, defence, packaging and civil aviation. They have attended courses at Mt Eliza, Harvard and Stanford, have completed the Company Directors Course, been trained in Lean 6-Sigma, and have joined industry tours studying world’s best practice.

Those who have been fortunate to receive grants also benefit from ongoing involvement with the ILF.

This is the time to apply

If this sounds like something you, or a colleague, could benefit from, have a look at the eligibility criteria, and if appropriate, consider applying. The ILF CEO, Geoff Vogt, welcomes calls from anyone thinking about applying. You can ring him on 8394 0017 to discuss your eligibility and for guidance on preparing a competitive application. If you’re selected, you’ll benefit personally, and your organisation, associated businesses, and the state as a whole also stand to gain from this experience. Applications are open now, and close May 31, so this is the perfect time to take advantage of this opportunity.

Follow Nickels English Solutions on Facebook and Instagram.

Photo Credit: <a href=””>HockeyholicAZ</a> via <a href=””>Compfight</a> <a href=””>cc</a>


Embrace simplicity in your writing!

The reason for writing is to communicate, even if only with oneself.

I often see writing where the writer seems to have forgotten their purpose, and appears to be writing to display their intelligence, vocabulary or to otherwise attempt to impress. This does not aid communication.

If the reader feels they need to have swallowed a dictionary, they’ll give up.

Complicated sentence structures give the reader another reason to give up. The writer might be falling into their own grammatical traps, getting tangled up, making mistakes, generating ambiguity. Mistakes do not make a writer look intelligent. Ambiguity does not deliver the message. It’s far more impressive to write simply and correctly. Just look at Ernest Hemingway’s books: his themes are not simple, yet his style is both simple and evocative.

‘One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.’ – Quintilian

Venturing into a thesaurus to add variety to writing is a good idea, but also fraught with the danger of choosing a word with a different meaning, or one that is so obscure it won’t be widely understood. The thesaurus will have several lists of alternatives, according to the sense of the original word and what type of word it is. Because we love to use nouns as verbs, parts of verbs as adjectives etc. in English, it’s easy to pick the wrong word. Choose carefully. Don’t select the first word that sounds interesting.

If an everyday word has exactly the right meaning, why not use it? Everyone will understand it. However, if a less common word is just right, and a simpler word is not, go for it.

I often see words that aren’t quite right. They might sound similar to the correct word, but mean something completely different. This could be because of a typo, and the spell checker has made its best guess at the word, but offered something quite inappropriate. Take care with its suggestions! If you have any doubt about a word’s meaning, look it up in a reputable dictionary. This will improve your writing for ever.

Another thing to keep in mind is the length of a text. We receive a mountain of emails, and read articles and posts online. There’s so much to read that there isn’t time for it all. A piece only needs to be as long as necessary to fulfil its purpose. Once you’ve said what you have to say, stop.


Nickels English Solutions

Follow on Facebook

Follow in Instagram

Website spring cleaning on now!

Summer is a perfect time to give your website a spring clean!

January is quiet in many businesses, although it can be quite hectic in others, particularly those in retail.

If your business is one of the quiet types, then this is a great time of year to review and refresh your website for the coming year. It can be hard to find the time to do this when clients are keeping you busy.

Boosting your search engine ranking with some fresh or updated content is always a good thing!

There are lots of opportunities for tidying up your website, for example:

  • checking that any links to other sites are up to date
  • checking that navigation around your own site is all working as it should be
  • ensuring that all the content is consistent and up-to-date
  • planning and writing blog posts to be uploaded throughout the year
  • uploading photos of new products and removing photos of obsolete ones
  • making sure contact details and staff profiles are current.

It’s very easy to have conflicting or confusing content when a lot of small changes are made throughout the year. Even worse, this could be costly if offers such as discounts aren’t kept up-to-date.

Your website is often the first contact a potential client will have with your business, so make sure it’s representing the business accurately, and giving a good impression.

As with any other writing, it can be hard to spot the errors, inconsistencies, gaps or missed opportunities in your own website content. Since the target audience of your website is probably outside the organisation, getting an independent opinion from someone who doesn’t know all the ins and outs of your business, who might not be familiar with jargon used in-house, and who doesn’t already know any idiosyncrasies of the site can be very helpful in making it easier to use. An easier to use site means happier clients who are more likely to linger, which can translate into orders.

If you need some help with refreshing your website, Nickels English Solutions is here for you.

Follow Nickels English Solutions on Facebook and Instagram

Punctuation: rhythm and meaning

There are certainly prominent writers who would disagree, but I believe punctuation is important.

Punctuation can give rhythm to a piece of writing, allowing the reader some breathing space, some thinking space. Short sentences can be emphatic. They can be punchy. If there are too many, it can become annoying and require too much repetition which also can become annoying. Overly long sentences can be confusing, as well as being difficult to write and punctuate correctly.

As for meaning, even a comma in or out of a sentence can make a huge difference to its meaning. This blog post gives a few examples of the importance of commas and other basic punctuation marks, as well as offering a few chuckles.

Have a look at this excerpt from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Warning! It’s a little racy.  In the final 24000-odd words, there is not a shred of punctuation, not even an apostrophe! I’m not going to criticise such a respected writer, although I would point out that this extreme style can be quite exhausting for the reader, and possibly ambiguous, borne out by the number of reading guides that have been published to aid understanding of this piece.

In creative writing that’s fine, if that’s the author’s intention. It’s not such a good thing when the writing is for business or academic purposes, where clear, concise, unambiguous communication is important. It’s even worse if the topic is safety, or science, where there is no room for misunderstandings.

When writing for digital media, it’s important to bear in mind that attention spans are short, and few people will read something exhausting.

Here are a few more humorous examples of the difference a bit of punctuation makes. These are the best entries in a competition to write two thank you letters using the same words, but different punctuation, giving rise to different meanings

Does your business need a blog?


But why?

There are many reasons for having a blog, including feeding Google to improve your rankings, giving more information about your business, and providing resources for your clients.

  •  SEO is important and something of an art, although there are lots of things you can do yourself. One of the most important things to consider when working on SEO is your list of keywords. Google will be onto you if you try to sneak them into your website just to improve your ranking, but if you use them in a natural way, you’ll be fine. There are several places you should put those keywords, and a blog is a good one. It also gives you a great opportunity to use synonyms of your most important keywords.
  • Writing a blog keeps your website fresh and gives your clients and potential clients a reason to come back to your site. Search engines also like sites that aren’t static.
  • By blogging, you can provide your clients with more information about your goods and services, and you can educate those clients about your industry in general.
  • If you include interesting and useful content in your blog, your clients will feel they’re receiving extra value from you.
  • It can enhance your image and bring you to the attention of more people.
  • Clients like to know who you are. You can let them into your life a little with a blog. You can make it personal, but only as far as you feel comfortable.

There’s no need to write long posts, but it is important to keep them relevant. It’s also important to write them well. If words really aren’t your thing, consider getting some professional help from a copy writer, copy editor or a proofreader. It needn’t be that expensive. The more preparation you can do, the cheaper it will be.

Follow us on Facebook for regular tips on improving your writing. Nickels English Solutions

Photo Credit: Kenny Sarny

Tips for essay writing

  1. Make sure you understand the essay topic.
  2. Research the topic widely, choose source material, and record all sources for referencing.
  3. Make sure any direct quotes are acknowledged and copied accurately.
  4. Do not plagiarise!
  5. Keep your sentences to a manageable length (average 15-25 words), and don’t let them get too complicated, especially if English is not your first language.
  6. Vary the length of your sentences to keep the reader interested.
  7. Minimise padding words.
  8. Don’t make the paragraphs too long. Break to a new paragraph for a new topic.
  9. Don’t be repetitive.
  10. If you’re not sure of the meaning of a word, the dictionary is your friend. Don’t be tricked by words that sound alike.
  11. It’s good to use the thesaurus to expand your vocabulary and avoid overuse of particular words, but be careful when choosing synonyms. Make sure you choose a synonym for the correct meaning of the original word. Don’t choose a word that is too obscure.
  12. Track the word count as you write to make sure you stay within the limit. It’s much harder to remove large chunks of text later to bring an essay back within the limit.
  13. Make sure you have addressed the essay topic.
  14. Always run the spell-checker, but don’t expect it to find all the errors. You will still need to read the essay carefully to make sure your spelling is correct. The spell-checker will also highlight potential problems with grammar and punctuation. It can also give you statistics on average sentence length, and scores for reading difficulty.
  15. If possible, complete the essay several days before the due date to allow time to re-read it with fresh eyes, after a break. This will help you to find errors and identify any gaps.
  16. If you can, ask a friend to proofread the finished essay, or find an editor/proofreader to do this for you.

Follow us on Facebook for regular hints on improving your writing.

Who needs a proofreader?

Continuing the theme of my previous article (Why do you need a proofreader?), now I’m thinking about who needs one.

Everyone does!

Really, probably not everyone does, but a lot of organisations and individuals could benefit from using a proofreader or copy editor, or even a copy writer.

In the digital age everyone can write and have their writing seen by anyone with an internet connection, and we’re all doing it. We’re writing our own website content. We’re writing articles on LinkedIn and blogs. We’re tweeting, posting on Facebook, and joining discussions. We’re doing it to share our experiences and our experience, to be noticed, to find new clients, to have our opinions heard, and just for fun.

Ideally, all of these texts would be well-written, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, but that’s never going to happen. And sometimes, it really doesn’t matter that much: it depends why we’re writing, and who we’re hoping will read it.

If the writing is in a professional capacity, it’s important that it’s done right. It enhances the credibility of the author and it creates a good first impression.

I read a lot of articles, on LinkedIn for example, and many are great, both in content and writing, but there are many others that might have something interesting to say, but are let down by errors in spelling and grammar etc. This affects not only the authors’ credibility, but a lack of clarity can mean their messages are not received as intended, and the writers are less likely to be followed by others.

Anyone who is distributing printed matter or who has a presence online, who is using their presence for their business or for building a following for future employment or business opportunities, should consider getting some professional help with their writing: it might only require a quick check and be quite inexpensive.

 What’s the difference between a proofreader and a copy editor?

There are several levels of editing. What exactly is meant by these terms really depends on the environment, and the boundaries are becoming blurred.

When I proofread, I’m looking for typos, obvious formatting problems, and of course spelling, punctuation and grammar.

When I’m copy editing, I go a bit further. Here I also look at style, for example the overuse of particular words, which can be a little distracting for the reader. I look for clichés; misused words; overcomplicated sentence structures; or leaps in logic, where the reader could be left wondering how they got to this point. I might need to check references and the bibliography, depending on the type of document. I look for problems with consistency (eg switching from British to US spelling, or contradictions).

Photo by sidewalk flying/

Why do you need a proofreader?

It is a cliché, and a tautology, but you really do only get one chance to make a first impression.

Like it or not, people will make assumptions about you, or your organisation, from that first impression, so don’t give them the chance to assume negatively because of a few mistakes.

The first thing they see could be your website, signs outside your shopfront, a menu for your restaurant, or your job application.

It’s very easy to make silly mistakes and typos, but it’s hard to find them in your own writing. We all tend to see what we expect to see, and after reading something over and over to get it just right, those mistakes are difficult to spot. Maybe writing just isn’t your thing: that doesn’t mean your message doesn’t deserve to be heard and understood.

A proofreader or copy editor can look at your writing with both a fresh eye and objectivity. They can improve the flow by offering better word choices, removing clichés, tautologies and repetition, and by tidying up spelling, grammar, punctuation and formatting. They can also identify gaps in the writing that might not be evident to the writer. The writer has the whole story in their head, but since the reader can’t know what’s in there, they must work only with what is on the page and in their imagination.

Beyond first impressions, the placement of punctuation makes an enormous difference to the meaning of a sentence. A well-placed comma can change a sentence from being sinister to perfectly reasonable!

While the dog was eating the cat, the duck and the mouse were sleeping.

While the dog was eating, the cat, the duck and the mouse were sleeping.

After all the effort of writing something, it would be a shame for the meaning to be lost or misunderstood over something so small.

Proofreaders and copy editors can help you to deliver your message, as you intended, to your readers.


Follow us on Facebook for more tips of better writing. Nickels English Solutions